Lewis Mills boys hoops turning things around
The new season is just four games old but it is already apparent that this is not the same old Lewis Mills boys basketball team.
Lewis Mills started the 2013-14 season with three straight wins and despite a hardfought loss at Gilbert on Monday night, there is a lot for the Spartans to look forward to in 2014.
The Spartans have missed out on the state tournament the last two seasons and are coming off a 6-14 campaign. Mills may have missed out on the postseason in 2013, but it gained some valuable experience which is starting to pay off.
A season-opening rout of Nonnewaug was followed up by wins over Litchfield and Canton. The Spartans went 1-5 against those three teams last season, so the 3-0 start was the first sign that things were going to be different this season in Burlington.
In his third season in charge of the Spartans, coach Todd Kozak sees a team that is turning the corner.
"The program is fully implemented now at all three levels," he said. "We are going to win more than we lose for sure."
That's been the case so far even with Monday's loss to the Yellowjackets in Winsted. The Spartans trailed by ten entering the fourth quarter but hustled and scrapped their way to a 50-50 tie with just over a minute to play.
Gilbert's Yoharkey Sarmiento made a couple big plays down the stretch to make the difference but Mills still had to come away from the setback feeling alright about things.
"It was a good atmosphere and I liked that we didn't give in when we got down and that we played hard right to the final buzzer," Kozak said. "We just needed to execute a little bit better."
Despite not pulling out the win, the Spartans did some good things against the Yellowjackets. Alex Daigle scored 24 points, all in the second half, including 16 in the fourth as he repeatedly slashed to the hoop against the Gilbert defense. And Mills used a hustling 1-3-1 press to bother Gilbert and create turnovers.
"Alex is a classic slasher and got us back into it in the fourth quarter," Kozak said. "We fought but all night it seemed that we needed that one big stop and we just couldn't get it."
Now the Spartans will look to get back to their winning ways with three straight road games including a Jan. 10 matchup with Berkshire League favorite Terryville. Mills' first three wins were all at home so the challenge of winning on the road is the next step.
"We held our serve at home but we need to learn to win on the road," Kozak said. "This was our first real game where it was tight down the stretch. Next time we will know how to react better in a big spot, so we'll get better from this no doubt."
Just four games into the season the Spartans are halfway to last season's win total and five wins from a tournament berth. There is a lot of basketball to play but it looks like Mills will be playing a lot of important games this season.
"We like where we are," Kozak said. "We are making some very good progress and these kids work so hard. I really like this team and where we are heading."